Munich Conference on Security Policy
Mar 15, 2008

The hot topic at the at the 44th Munich Conference on Security Policy was the war against terrorism in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan seems far away however, during the international conference at the “Hotel Bayerischer Hof” from February 8th to 10th 2008, it quickly became clear that the Taliban threat in Afghanistan is also a growing threat to NATO and will influence the future of the transatlantic partnership. Some coalition forces, especially the United States, United Kingdom, The Netherlands, and Canada are all involved in very serious fighting with Taliban terrorists in southern areas – and suffering losses due to death and injury. This unbalanced NATO strategy is causing serious problems for the alliance.

Recognizing that Afghanistan needed a consistent level of security in order to build itself back after years of fighting, and to keep Taliban forces from rejeuvenating after surrendering their last stronghold of Kandahar in December of 2001, Canada steadily increased its NATO commitment in Afghanistan. By 2006, however, it was apparent that the Taliban was again becoming strong in the south, and Canada accepted a major role in the more dangerous southern provinces, deploying a battle group of more than 2,000 soldiers around Kandahar. The fighting became fiercer and the casualty count began to rise.

As a result of this imbalance, Canadians were forced to examine the future of the NATO-led Afghanistan ISAF-mission. As the situation became increasingly untenable for the Canadian Parliament to support, this year’s Munich Conference on Security Policy was of extreme importance to the NATO partners.

The title of the conference was A World in Disarray – Shifting Powers – Lack of Strategies and referred to the resolution of global conflicts. The initial focus was a general strategy debate, however, the focus soon shifted to the continued engagement of the international community in Afghanistan.

Sitting at the head table are Conference Organizer Prof. Dr. Horst Teltschik (left), and the Prime Minister of the Republic Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. 

Just prior to the conference, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates again challenged Germany to increase its commitment in southern Afghanistan by deploying combat troops to support coalition forces in their war against Taliban terrorists. The resulting speculation forced German Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung to calm the situation. Internal discussions began to explain to the population that there is a need for German Forces to operate in southern regions. External discussions were also required – to show the flag within NATO to be a strong and reliable ally, and that means to bring combat forces into the battlefield to support the allies and to fulfil the Canadian government’s stipulation so that the Canadian Forces would continue its role in Afghanistan.

Nevertheless, the dispute within NATO over an alleged lack of commitment on the part of Germany at the mountainous Hindu Kush area in the run-up to the security conference was largely qualified and kept general. In Germany “the Bundeswehr mission at the mountainous Hindu Kush area," is a  synonym for out-of-area missions.

The dispute within NATO (in other words the dispute between the US and Germany) is a very critical discussion because, from the German point of view, more than 3,500 soldiers equals a strong commitment in Afghanistan. The U.S., however, expect more German troops and especially combat forces to be deployed in southern areas to support US, UK, NL, and CA forces in fighting against the Taliban.

U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates was ostentatiously conciliatory towards Germany during the conference, however, he warned of the dangers of a rift developing within NATO if the row over burden-sharing in Afghanistan continued. He suggested that allies ought not to have the luxury of opting only for stability and civilian operations, thus forcing others to bear a disproportionate share of the fighting and dying.

In response, French Defence Minister Hervé Morin promised to assume more military tasks by France in the contested southern region of Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, there are growing indications of a change in NATO’s strategy for Afghanistan. The idea is for greater account to be taken in future of civil components; civil reconstruction measures and combat action should go together. NATO needs a comprehensive strategy, as there has been too little coordination of activities thus far.
By making certain concessions to opposition parties, it appears that the Canadian government has been able to gain enough support in Parliament to extend its involvement to 2011.

Noting that the problem of reconstructing Afghanistan could not be resolved purely by military means, it was proposed that a European be appointed as coordinator of all civil projects in Afghanistan. The aim would be to build a stable country that lay in Afghan hands; and in this context, responsibility should be transferred to the Afghan National Army. German Defence Minister Jung announced that Germany would forthwith do more to train Afghan police officers.

All concepts discussed at the Munich Conference on Security Policy are likely to be topics at the upcoming NATO Summit in Bucharest in April. This summit, at the latest, will reveal whether the call made by NATO Secretary General de Hoop Scheffer for an atmosphere of ­creative and constructive debate in the Alliance will be answered.
Jürgen KG Rosenthal is a retired Captain in the German Air Force. The former civil air traffic controller joined the Luftwaffe (ATC and wing operations) and eventually moved on to military intelligence (imagery and targeting) and served in Bundeswehr Operations Command as a targeting/ weaponeering officer, retiring in 2004.
© Frontline Defence 2008